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Guide to the Melvin Dwork papers, 1933-2003

Collection Overview

Kellen Design Archives
Dwork, Melvin
Creator - Photographer
Vitale, Peter
Melvin Dwork papers, 1933-2003
3.2 linear ft: 6 boxes, 29 illustrations
Named one of Architectural Digest’s top 100 designers in 1990 and 2002, Melvin Dwork (1922- ) attended Parsons School of Design in the 1940s, and later served on the Parsons Advisory Committee. The collection (1930s through the 2000s) includes student work, slides, photographs, news clippings, press releases, brochures, showroom catalogs, personal correspondence and awards.

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Biographical note

Melvin Dwork was born in Kansas City, Missouri. After graduating from Southeast High School in 1939, he attended the Kansas City Art Institute for two years before moving to New York City, where he enrolled in Interior Architecture and Decoration classes at Parsons School of Design. Dwork served in the U.S. Navy beginning in 1943, but he was labeled "undesirable" and dishonorably discharged in 1944 after it was discovered he was involved in a homosexual relationship. Dwork returned to Parsons with the assistance of the school's president, Van Day Truex, and commenced a personal campaign to have his veteran's status changed. In a landmark 2011 decision, the Board for Corrections of Naval Records formally altered his status to "honorable."

In 1946, Dwork acquired his first interior design position in New York as an assistant for designer James Pendleton. Three years later, he obtained a job as a decorator for Edward Garrett, Inc., a position he held for six months before starting his own business, Melvin Dwork Interiors, in the fall of 1949. In 1953, he was asked to do a model apartment for a co-op across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His designs for the apartment garnered him national visibility, as well as several new clients.

In 1956, Dwork closed his business and started working with Irving M. Altman. Later that same year, Altman and Dwork initiated a partnership that included an antiques store and interior design firm located on East 57th Street. Dwork joined Yale R. Burge Associates (later Burge-Donghia, Inc.) in 1960. He remained there until 1970, when he launched a partnership with James Maguire, a Parsons graduate, to form Dwork-Maguire. In 1993, Dwork was inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.

While managing his design business, Dwork also served on the Advisory Committee at Parsons School of Design from 1992 to 1995. In 1997, he established the John Butler Foundation to promote the work of his former partner, a choreographer, who died in 1993.

As of 2011, Melvin Dwork is designing furniture and interiors.


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Scope and Contents of Collection

The collection consists of clippings, correspondence, photographic materials, and student work documenting the education and career of Melvin Dwork.

Personal materials include family correspondence and photographs, in addition to certficates from the U.S. Navy and a set of sketches accompanied by an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem.

Professional work is divided between project-specific documentation and general publicity. Projects encompass commercial and residential interiors in addition to museum and gallery exhibitions and show houses. Commercial projects include the Aetna Life Insurance company's executive level offices in Hartford, Connecticut and the Shearson Lehman Hutton executive dining room in New York. Residential projects include properties belonging to Gene Moore of Tiffany & Company, Robert Sarnoff and Anna Moffo, and the choreographer John Butler. Also present are materials about Dwork's own apartments, offices, and weekend homes. Approximately a hundred stereo slides of commercial and residential projects and a stereo slide viewer are also included in this series.

Most projects featured in the collection are located in Manhattan, Long Island, and Florida, although Dwork's design work for the Nelson-Atkins Museum and relatives in his native Kansas City, Missouri are also present. Files may contain clippings, negatives, photographs, slides, and transparencies. Some files only contain professionally photographed images of finished projects, many by Jaime Ardiles-Arce and Peter Vitale. The bulk of the projects date from 1970 onwards, following Dwork's departure from Yale R. Burge Associates. The collection is noteworthy for documenting how modern works of art have been displayed in residential spaces.

Publicity include advertisements for Dwork's firms, clippings featuring profiles and interviews with Dwork, and other materials that do not pertain to a particular project. It also includes materials relating to Dwork's induction into the Interior Design Hall of Fame.

Student work consists of drawings, renderings, and sketchbooks created during high school and college courses at the Kansas City Art Institute and Parsons School of Design. It also includes report cards, awards, and correspondence from Van Day Truex, who was president of Parsons from 1942 until 1952. Much of the student design work is undated and unlabeled. Some items feature the penciled notation "KC" possibly indicating they were executed in Kansas City, before Dwork moved to New York to attend Parsons School of Design. Drawings and renderings are executed in ink, pencil, and watercolor, and feature interiors, furniture, and decorative elements.


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Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 3 series:

  1. Personal, 1933-1991
  2. Professional work, 1950s-2003
  3. Student work, 1930s-1945

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Administrative Information

Publication Information

Kellen Design Archives September 14, 2010

66 5th Ave./
lobby level/
New York, NY, 10011

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the Kellen Design Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Immediate Source of Acquisition note

Donated by Melvin Dwork, 2006.

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Keywords for Searching Related Subjects


  • Catalogs.
  • Clippings (information artifacts).
  • Photographs.
  • Slides (photographs).
  • Student projects.


  • Interior designers.

Personal Name(s)

  • Ardiles-Arce, Jaime


  • Interior decoration firms -- New York (State) -- New York -- 20th century.
  • Interior decoration -- Study and teaching -- New York (State) -- New York -- 20th century.
  • Interior decorators -- United States -- 20th century.

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Collection Inventory

Series I. Personal 1933-1991 
Title Box Folder
General, 1960s, undated  1 1
Correspondence, 1933-1934, 1991  1 2
Military certificates, 1943-1944  1 3
Photographs, 1940s-1950s  1 4
Poem and sketches, undated    1 5

Contains dried flowers.

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Series II. Professional work 1950s-2003 
Projects circa 1950-2002 
Title Box Folder
General  1 6

Includes transparency of a bar stool, an unidentified transparency of a table setting, a slide of an FAO Schwartz package

General: Stereo slides and viewer, probably 1950s-1960s  6 1-3

Case includes approximately 100 color slides and a slide viewer. Projects documented in stereo slide format include: 1025 Fifth Avenue [New York, New York], 800 Grand Concourse [Bronx, New York], Belloch, Bergson, Herbert Charles, Dwork, Grosfeld House, Kimmel, Harold Klein, Knowlton, Lampert, Lexington House, Loeb [office], Mermelstein, and Riker [office].

Unidentified reproductions of renderings, 1960s-1970s  1 7
Commercial circa 1950-1990 
AETNA, 1985-1986, 1992  1 8-10
Cohen, Arthur: Office, circa 1955  1 11
Dwork: Office on 51st Street, circa 1970  1 12
Hotel Lexington, circa 1950  1 13
Schwadron, circa 1976  1 14

Includes both home and office.

Shearson Lehman Hutton: Photographs and floor plans, 1989-1990  1 15
Exhibitions 1978-1990 
Brunschwig & Fils, 1982  1 16
High Museum [Atlanta, GA], 1978  1 17
Nelson-Atkins Museum [Kansas City, MO], 1989  1 18-19
Royal Copenhagen/Georg Jensen table settings, 1990  1 20
Tiffany & Company, 1979-1980  2 5
Residential circa 1960s-2002 

Projects for which there is little documentation have been combined with other projects in the same folder.

Unidentified, 1950s  2 6
Unidentified, 1960s-1970s  2 7
Unidentified, 1980s-1990s  2 8
Asnes - Backer - Bergson, 1960s-1980s  2 9
Block - Burton, 1960s-1980s  2 10
Brawer, circa 1962  2 11-12
Brown, M. Richard, 1982, 1991  2 13
Brown, Robert, 1980  2 14
Butler, John, 1977  2 15
Butler, Marshall, 1986, 1991  2 16-17
Cohen, Arthur: Olympic Tower, 1978  2 18
Cohen, Arthur: Kings Point, 1960s  3 1
Cohen, D., 1980s  3 2-3
Cohen, I. - Feinman - Forman, 1983-1984, 1993  3 4
Dwork 1968-2002 
Beekman Place, 1970  3 5
East 56th Street, 1970s  3 6
Fire Island Pines, 1968-1988  3 7-8
Shelter Island, 1993-2002  3 9
Soho, 1990  3 10
West 77th Street, circa 1986-1992  3 11
Title Box Folder
Horowitz - Jacomo - Joseph, 1963, circa 1969, 1990s  3 12
Kahn - Keiner, 1979-1980, 1991 July  3 13
Moore/Rondina - Regan, circa 1967, 1986  3 14
Sarnoff, 1979, 1991  4 1
Schwadron, circa 1970  4 2
Serchuck, 1990 July  4 3
Sontag, 1988  4 4
Stark, 1982  4 5
Strann, 1990, 1994  4 6
Strauss: circa 1970-1975  4 7
Strauss: 1990-1994  4 8
Show houses 1958-1996 
General, 1977-1997  2 1
Bedford, 1974  2 2
Grosfeld House, 1958  2 3
Kips Bay, 1982-1983, 1996  2 4
Publicity 1950-2003 
Title Box Folder
General, 1963-2000  4 9
Brochures, circa 1976, 2003  4 10
1946-1998  k_9 9
1950-1978  4 11
1980-1988  4 12
1990-2003  4 13
Title Box Folder
Newspapers, 1955, 1962-1980  4 14
k_9 10
Newspapers, 1971-1984  4 15
Title Box Folder
Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame, 1993-1994  5 1
Press releases, 1955-1957, 1982  5 2
Print advertisements, circa 1956-1992  5 3
Print advertisements (pre-publication), 1983, undated  5 4
Smithsonian lecture, 1991   Includes Spring 1991 course catalog and intro by Thomas Mallon. 5 5

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Series III. Student work 1930s-1945 
Title Box Folder
General: Artwork, 1930s-1940s  5 6
k_9 11
k_OSx-1 5
k_OSxx-1 8-9
Advertising design project, 1930s or 1940s  k_OSx-1 6
High school artwork and awards, before 1939  5 7
High school and college report cards and commencement program, 1934-1942  5 8
Ink drawings, 1930s or 1940s  5 9
Title Box Folder
Interior renderings, 1930s or 1940s  5 10
k_OSx-1 7
Kansas City Art Institute: "History of Furniture" notebook, 1941  5 11
Parsons School of Design: Correspondence from Van Day Truex, 1944-1945  5 12
Paseo High School: Art -- Term 1 sketchbook, before 1939  5 13
Paseo High School: Drafting Dept. sketchbook, 1937-1938  5 14
Sketchbook, 1930s or 1940s  5 15

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Collection guide Last Updated: 08/30/2012

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